The health services labour force is shrinking, there are more and more old people, and a very high proportion of them are plagued by deteriorating short- and long-term memory. All this has created a need for computer-based solutions that will enable elderly people to live safely in their own homes, but at the same time, the technology needed to take special care of them is expensive. On top of this, different standards for home sensors create problems.
This situation formed the backdrop for the EU’s decision two years ago to launch a series of projects to make it simpler for industry to develop new equipment in this field. One of these projects was called Mpower, which had the goal to create a computer platform that could be used for various purposes and meet a wide range of needs among its target group.
What is being tested in Norway today is a simple communication system based on a computer screen, aimed at elderly people who live at home but whose memory is failing. No keyboard is needed, only a touch on the screen, which displays the sun and the moon to indicate whether it is day or night, while a large clock-face shows the time.
“This is also a system for sharing information”, explains project manager Marius Mikalsen. The families of these patients are often anxious about how their parents are getting on, and this allows both them and the home help to enter messages that will be automatically displayed by the system. On the screen, for example, the elderly person might find “Remember to drink some water”, or “Take the number 52 bus”. Or current messages such as “The home help will be coming at nine o’clock this morning to give you a shower.”
Another useful feature is that family members can also access the system to check whether the elderly person’s appointments have been kept. Has she been to the doctor? Has he remembered to go to the day-care unit today?
“SINTEF has been project manager here, and it is nice to think that what we are now testing in Norway was developed by the University of Cyprus in collaboration with two Spanish companies, and that it runs on a server in Austria”, says Mikalsen.
Since last summer, a handful of elderly people have been trying the system in Trondheim and Grimstad. Meanwhile, a variant of the system is being tested in a nursing home near Krakow in Poland. This version uses sensors and GPS to offer smart solutions both in the house and outdoors to sound the alarm if an elderly person is moving around in an unsafe area.
Mpower ended in June 2009. SINTEF is trying to extend the project in collaboration with the local authorities in Trondheim.